As a nation, we are obsessed with how our children are developing. Are they sleeping properly? Are they growing properly? Do they get enough fresh air? Am I feeding them correctly? One thing that I hear quite a bit, is if our child’s speech and language are developing properly.
Children’s speech and language are very important, as talking is key to our communication when we become adults. So what can we do to encourage our children to talk? I’m certainly no expert, but from my sheer curiosity and experience teaching in primary schools I’ve learned a few things that have helped us with our toddler who actually never shuts up these days!
Note: I am not a speech and language therapist. If you have any concerns about your child’s speech and language then you should contact a professional about it.
1. Talk to them
Give them a running commentary of everything you do.
Of course, this means you will eventually get a running commentary of everything they do. And think. Sometimes I wonder if I should tell Olive she might run out of words if she keeps using so many. I also wonder if earplugs are the best answer, but we’ll get to that later as it is definitely important to listen, despite the earache.
Also, don’t be shy about the words you use. If you have the chance to use vast, technical vocabulary then use your big words! We had a teacher at our secondary school who would proclaim: “Go and be a sponge!” Children really are sponges and you will be surprised at what they can retain.
2. Make them use a range of vocabulary
It is amusing and you can have a laugh at their silly words but it also gives them the important practice of sounds and unusual words like “Oesophagus” and “Azerbaijan”. We also did various tongue twisters like “Peter Piper” and plenty of songs! Your joy is their encouragement, and it brings a lot of joy hearing your kids say hilarious things.
I once remarked about how toddlers can be “right arseholes,” not thinking she could hear me. I was wrong. It reminded me of that scene from Meet the Parents…
3. Parent Facing Pushchairs
Having our children facing forwards whilst we push them along was something that came into fashion in the 70s. For some reason, that never changed. There has been research to suggest that facing your child when you walk has a huge influence on their speech and language development. They watch you and how you interact socially with other people, as well as them being able to interact with you.
Not only can you help promote speech and language, you actually help in their emotional well-being too.
4. Read to them
As a student teacher, I was shocked to find that so many children aren’t read to at home very often. To my wife and I, it felt like such a natural thing to expose our child to the immense world of children’s literature. Stranger still, as a male teacher my ability to captivate my audience seems to increase due to one not insignificant fact: many children aren’t read to by their dads.
It seems incredible that in this day and age that the role of reading to the children isn’t a joint responsibility. Yet for a lot of the children I’ve been around this is the case. Mum puts them to bed. Mum reads them a story. It’s so heartbreaking to know that not only are some children missing out, but dads are too!
Reading to Olive at bedtime is probably my favourite part of every day. There’s the obvious joy that she’s finally shutting up for a second and going to sleep, but the love that she also has for that time of day is just magical.
5. Be responsive
Whether you are pretending to know what your baby is saying when they babble, or you are listening to the exhaustive explanation of your child’s mundane trip to the supermarket – respond accordingly. Your kids can usually pick up on your tone of voice and if you are interested, but they may not always know you’re feigning interest. Value what they say and they will keep on saying it. Ask them questions, but give them time to answer.
To finish, one of the hardest things is to not compare your child to others. Don’t worry about your child not responding in the same way as their peers. Not only do children develop at different rates, but sometimes a lack of speech doesn’t equal a lack of understanding.